Monday, April 04, 2011
Springtime for NATO in Libya posted by Richard Seymour
Can I just risk a modest proposition? NATO, the CIA and the special forces belonging to the world's imperialist states are not forces of progress in this world. Does anyone disagree with that? If not, then it follows as surely as night follows day that the successful cooptation of the Libyan revolution by NATO, the CIA and special forces is a victory for reaction. It's no good hoping that the small, poorly armed, poorly trained militias of the east of Libya, who are now utterly dependent on external support, will somehow shake themselves free of such constraints once - if - they take power. Even if they eventually get some of the Libyan money that has been frozen by international banks, as UN Resolution 1973 promises, it will have come all too late to have been decisive.
I can well see how conservatives and liberals would see no loss at all in such a situation, nothing indeed but a net gain. It means after all that even if Qadhafi were to be overthrown at this point, it would not have been by a popular revolution. It would not have been because the revolution broadened its base and spread into Tripoli or Sirte. It would not have been under circumstances in which the panoply of social and political forces in Libya were fused into a victorious revolutionary bloc - e pluribus unum and all that. And it would not have seen Qadhafi's regime replaced by a popular one serving popular needs. Were Qadhafi to fall tomorrow, he would fall to a network of former regime elements and their external backers. The regime that replaced Qadhafi may well be more liberal, the sort that young Saif was to be entrusted to deliver at one point, but it would not be a popular or democratic one. The migration deals with the EU, the oil deals with multinationals, and the arms deals to ensure the suppression of more radical political forces (under the rubric of containing 'Al Qaeda', that ubiquitous, shapeshifting enemy of the free world) would all be central planks of a post-bellum regime.
The liberal argument, which is to the fore, is strikingly apolitical - and narcissistic. Only rarely do its advocates relate it to the shapeshifting revolutionary process currently underway in the Middle East. Rarer still is anything that could pass for analysis of Libya's internal dynamics. On the contrary, its preferred starting point is the solitary, decontextualised crisis point in which the 'West' can redeem itself through military action. There is in this the echo of colonial discourse: the missionaries, the deserving victims, the empire as protector of the meek and virtuous. It's very important for the defenders of 'humanitarian intervention', 'Responsibility 2 Protect' and so on (the clutter of inelegant jargon that accompanies such doctrines is a sure sign of their incoherence) that there should be an opportunity to use firepower, to moralise the means of violence. This is one reason, incidentally, why it never even occurred to them to wonder how it is that - unlike in Iraq, which war they castigate as irresponsible - there was never even the pretence of diplomacy. I am no pacifist, but I don't like to be told that there are no alternatives to air-borne death when the alternatives haven't even been tried.
If the issue was the minimisation of bloodshed, then a logical solution would have been to allow Turkey and others to facilitate negotiations. Yes, I know. A negotiated settlement would be a step back from outright victory for the rebels. But that is an increasingly improbable outcome anyway, and I thought we were trying to save lives here? And as it happens, a diplomatic solution seems to be exactly what is on the cards now. The transitional council leadership in Benghazi has acknowledged as much. Qadhafi is sending ambassadors to talk to interested parties about a ceasefire settlement. If this is how the situation is going to be resolved, then it would have been better that it had been resolved this way several weeks ago. If the aerial bombardment was supposed to stop massacres, it doesn't seem to have done so. From 'Save Sarajevo' to 'Save Benghazi', however, the liberal imperialists are in their glory when on the warpath, and as facile with rationalisations and false consolations as they are contemptuous of the same when deployed by the right.
So, as I say, it is natural that the usual assortment of cynics, security wonks and liberal hawks should be content with this annexing, even if their arguments in its favour make little sense. No one who supported the revolution, however, can be as content without also being a little naive or descending into bad faith arguments of the type: "we don't trust the bourgeois cops, but a rape victim should still call the police." Say what you like about the police, but one generally doesn't to find them blowing up neighbourhoods. Their role, in a word, is the suppression of conflict. The role of imperialist states in the world system is, to put it mildly, not that. And they are, I will not say 'lawless', but not susceptible to any of the constraints that apply to even the most British of police officers. And I am not myself prepared to see the US, or any of its surrogates, as a global policeman just yet. Worse still are the wised up comments to the effect that "the world is a murky place, blah blah, which should not be seen in black and white terms, yawn yawn, and we can't force people to die for the sake of some purist anti-imperialism, etc etc". No, indeed, but it's hardly better to expect people to die for the sake a woolly platitude. The war's handful of leftist apologists are living off the waning hope that out of this process will come a people's revolution. Why do they think this likely? No reason. Just cos. Press them particularly hard, and they'll revert to the parable of the good policeman, stretching the analogy beyond the point of satire in the process.
We can live in hope, of course. The proletariat, introduced into these arguments as a deus ex machina that will guarantee against any sell-out, betrayal, shoddy deal or undemocratic imposition, is the repository of this hope. But the workers of the eastern coastal cities and towns, having shown considerable courage in fighting Qadhafi's forces, were unable to defeat them. And they have not been able to prevent the former regime elements from asserting control of the revolt, or from cutting a deal with NATO. The number of rebels who are actually armed and in control is numerically small. As of late March, there were only about 1,000 trained fighters among the rebels. There are estimated to be about 17,000 volunteers, but they are untrained, poorly armed, and themselves a minority of the populations in which they operate. The Libyan working class - set aside the fact that much of the actual working class resides in areas beyond rebel control - is not in control of this process. General Abdel Fatah Younis, the former interior minister, is not even in control of this process. The opposition leaders are now adjuncts to a NATO strategy which may not even have been disclosed to them. Let's at least give credit where it's due. This is NATO's war. And that means, this is Washington's war.